4 month sleep regression - fact or fiction?
Just when you think you have figured out your baby’s sleep patterns, you have navigated your way through the tricky “fourth” trimester, and suddenly your baby starts to cut their naps short, waking every 45 minutes throughout the day, becoming more and more difficult to get to sleep in the first place, and often waking more frequently overnight, sometimes as much as every 2 hours.
What is going on?
This is what sleep consultants and parents refer to as the 4-month sleep regression. Fundamentally it is actually more a progression in terms of your babies sleep maturity, but it is a regression in terms of how well they are sleeping, and likely how little you are sleeping!
What do you need to know?
It’s 100% normal for your baby to suddenly start waking after 45 minutes.
This is a full sleep cycle for a baby, they take 15-20 minutes to drift off from a light sleep to a deep sleep, and this deep sleep is over 25 minutes later. If your baby is napping for more than 45 minutes, they are completing more than one of these sleep cycles. (See the above diagram)
Overnight in the first 3 months often your babies sleep cycles are 4-6 hour’s long, this can mean you baby sleeps for 4-6 hours has a quick feed and then returns to sleep for another 4-6 hours, bliss!
Once this 4-month sleep regression hits and your baby’s night sleep patterns change, babies often start to wake every 2-4 hours overnight.
This is due to the change in sleep cycle length, and often over tiredness from the short day time naps.
We only expect a partial wake up every 2 hour’s, so a well-rested baby will stir and they will drift into a light sleep phase, and then back into a deeper sleep for a further 2 hours before fully waking up.
But an overtired baby or a baby who can't re-settle themselves will wake fully when they reach that light sleep phase, and often cry for assistance with settling or a feed.
What can you do to help your Baby?
As the 4-month sleep regression is not really a regression but a progression in your babies sleep maturity, it is not something which your baby will “come through” or something which passes by.
I have clients come to me at 10-12 months, their baby is still cat napping and still waking every 2 hours, they feel their baby never came out of the 4 month sleep regression.
But don't panic their sleep will improve with time and a little help from you!
Babies need to adjust to the changes they are experiencing, and you can help them with small easy changes to their sleep hygiene and self-settling skills.
First and foremost is sleep hygiene:
Ensure their sleep environment is conducive to good sleep, a nice dark sleep space will promote melatonin production and be less distracting when you baby wakes after 45 minutes’.
Ensuring your baby has an age appropriate awake window, one which means baby is not over or under tired. We generally aim for around 2 hours awake time by 4 months, this is of course give or take depending on the baby.
Some positive sleep associations such as white noise, swaddles and sleeping bags will also be useful in good sleep hygiene.
Once your basics are in place, you can consider if your baby can self-settle, or if they are heading in that direction?
If your baby relies on your to rock, hold or feed them to sleep, once their sleep cycle finishes......... they're looking for the same association to get back to sleep.
Therefore your first goal should be to teach your baby to self settle to sleep initially, before worrying about re-settling at after a short nap, or at night.
Sometimes when your baby is taking short naps and waking frequently overnight, this fragmented sleep causes a big increase in sleep debt...............The result? ............. even shorter naps! Often 30 minutes long, and more and more crying from your baby throughout the day.
They are miserable.
This is often when we receive a desperate phone call from parents.
At this stage I would recommend you try assisted naps for a few days to get on top of that sleep debt.
This means going for a walk for your baby’s naps, or baby wearing, anything which will easily ensure your baby gets some longer more restorative naps.
You might also want to peg back those awake windows for a few days to help reduce those stress hormones associated with this kind of sleep debt.
Are they hungry at night?
I don't want to assume to know your baby, but.......if they previously slept well at night, and are suddenly waking every 2 hours (to the minute), it is very very unlikely that this is a growth spurt, especially if their feeding in the day has become fussy, which is another common problem associated with this regression.
This fussiness comes from a lack of hunger due to multiple night feeds putting them off their feeds in the day.
A growth spurt typically lasts 48-72 hours, which is long enough for your supply to pick up, and is characterized by longer feeds, and possibly an extra feed at night, not 2 hourly feeding.
Avoid this situation which is called reverse cycling, by trying to settle your baby without a feed, as long as....
- Their weight gain is tracking well
- They previously slept longer
- It has been less than 4 hours since they last fed
- You have no supply issues
- Baby has no milk transfer issues
Using self-settling strategies to gently teach your 4 month old to go back to sleep independently is the key to those longer stretches of sleep at night.
Hang in there!
If your baby has started taking these short 45 minutes, and their night sleep is regressing you are probably finding yourself in a very stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted state!
You are not alone, this is one of the most common issues we deal with at Baby Sleep Consultant.
Concentrating on more night sleep will help both of you to feel less over tired, and consequently you will both have more patience to deal with the short naps once you are ready.
Try the night plans in our online sleep program. We teach parents how to drop from multiple night feeds, to 2 night feeds, then 1, then none!
All without cry it out.
Plus you get free email support with every online sleep program!
What did these mum's do?
Chloe “My daughter went through it between 3.5 and 4.5 months and it was a month of hell. Went from sleeping through the night with a dream feed to waking multiple times and crying, and she was just unable to be settled. Her 45 minutes’ naps dropped to just 20 minutes! It was worse than when she was a newborn. I ended up contacting Baby Sleep Consultant as I was exhausted physically and emotionally, Emma sorted her day sleeps and her night sleeps.”
Kelly Johnson “The 1 big thing that helped me was research, so by the time I had my 4th child I learnt about the 4 month change in sleep patterns. I was prepared, I had a baby carrier so he could be if I needed a long nap and it wasn't happening, and I was made sure I was eating properly as I was breastfeeding and he was on a nap routine by 4 months. I followed the Baby Sleep Consultant 3-8 month sleep program and we got through it with less drama than my other 3!!"
Kate Gentile “ I have four kids and con honestly say if the 4 month sleep regression hit, I didn’t notice it! We had a strict nap routine by 3 months every time, and I made sure my babies took at least 2 naps a day in their bassinet”
Sharai de Klerk “ My little one seems to have started it at 13 weeks. We went from great day sleeps and sleeping all night, from 5/6 weeks to waking every 1.5-3 hours, worse than a newborn! I had some advice from a Baby Sleep Consultant to ensure good day naps, I baby wore for the first few days, and it really helped. We are back to 1-2 feeds max a night. Try the sleep program, it works!!!”
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education.
Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn't working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.
Our Baby Sleep Program helps tired parents TO DEVELOP HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS BY FOCUSING ON NAPS, SETTLING AND NIGHT SLEEP.
- Empowered: Feel empowered as a Mum as you learn to understand your growing baby's needs and cues.
- Simple effective settling: Gentle, proven self settling, evidence based techniques.
- Content happy baby and parents: Better sleep creates content babies & happy parents.
- Freedom: Predictable routines and longer nights creates freedom. Solve your sleep problems for more freedom.
- Work with your babies circadian rhythm: Work with your babies biological clock for faster easier results.
- Awesome naps & nights: You'll create consistent naps and nights with our support.
My baby has reflux can you help?
When your baby has reflux, feeds can be difficult and your baby can be in a lot of pain both during and after feeds. This pain can cause feeding aversions and failure to thrive. This is why true GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) needs to be treated by a doctor. Once your baby's doctor is satisfied your baby is feeding well, and you have the right medication or formula then we can start a sleep plan and you will be successful.
My baby has colic will this help?
Colic is defined as 3 or more hours of crying per day in infants. Crying subsides in the second second trimester. If you are still experiencing colic symptoms speak to your baby's doctor about whether this could be reflux, an allergy, or over tiredness. We can help you work on better sleep with this program at the same time as your doctor investigates the pain and crying.
What if the program isn't working?
We have a dedicated help line to ensure your success. Just email our team via the details in your program and a certified, experienced and friendly sleep consultant is ready to stare you in the right direction to ensure your success!
My baby was born early, can you help?
Sleep is neurological so we always work off your babies neurological age, that is their corrected age. When you look at our sleep programs purchase the program that your babies corrected age fits into.
What if I have questions or need more help?
Our sleep programs come with private email support. You don’t have to post in any public forums or groups, just email the exclusive helpline that our team of certified sleep consultants look after and we’ll answer all your questions and help you on your way.
Can this program help with my babies night sleep?
Yes, all our online sleep programs contain night sleep plans. We will teach you how to move from multiple night feeds to 2 or 1 or none (depending on what is age appropriate and appropriate for your baby.) Don’t worry we will show you to figure this out too. If your baby is unsettled at night but not feeding, our plans will help you with consolidate night sleep and self settling when age appropriate.
My baby is cat napping can you help?
Cat napping is a very normal physiological stage that your baby goes through. At this stage (3-8 months old), cat napping can start to be a long term issue and compound into over tiredness and affect night sleep and your babies happiness. Good news, this is a great age to work on re-settling, self settling and better longer naps!
I have 3 children, can this work with my family?
I totally understand how busy life is with 2, 3 or more children! Even if you need a flexible schedule we can still work on settling regular naps (some on the go!), and better evenings and night. Flick our consultants any specific questions about your family's schedule of activities and we can help you work out what is possible nap wise.
I don't want a fixed routine, can you still help?
Yes. A fixed routine is one option, regular naps and regular awake times is another. Both are valid and you are welcome to do what works for your family. We understand you are all different and what works best for one family won't be best for another.
I'm formula feeding, can you still help?
Yes we have specific advice for formula feeding parents, and we support your decision to feed any way you choose. We even have a special video series on formula feeding and everything you need to know. Just ask our consultants about this extra if you need it.
I'm exclusively breastfeeding, can I follow your plans?
Yes! While breastfeeding babies need to feed frequently they still need quality sleep day and night. We have specific advice for breastfeeding mums and an exclusive discount on Julia Daleys breastfeeding course if you need extra help.
I'm bed sharing, can your program help me stop?
Yes. We often fall into bed sharing, we call this reactive bed sharing. Or we have simply changed our mind, and moving on from bed sharing we need some support. Our programs and consults will guide you through gentle sleep methods, which are more appropriate for most bed sharing babies who are moving towards independent sleep in the cot.
I'm feeding to sleep, can you help me stop?
Yes. Feeding to sleep is a common sleep association and one that works well for lots of newborns. Often we need to move on from feeding to sleep when it starts to cause short naps, or prolonged settling or frequent night wake ups as baby looks for their association to go back to sleep over and over again at night. We can teach you how to teach your baby to self settle and move on from feeding to sleep when the time is right.
I'm rocking to sleep, is their a solution?
Yes. These are common sleep associations, we refer to this as assisting to sleep. Let us show you ways you can develop independent sleep and settling strategies with our online sleep program, or one on one consult.
Is this program based on Cry It Out?
No. Cry it out is the common name for a sleep training method where you put baby down and don’t respond or check until they are fast asleep. There is no CIO involved in this program as we feel this should be only done under proper supervision. Instead we have included all our very gentle approaches and more mainstream techniques for you to choose from.
Is this based on Science or Art?
Both! As a scientist I (Emma) have spent over 8 years researching the science of sleep. I have educated and certified over 500 consultants around the world as sleep consultants, and have worked with thousands of clients. I love the scientific explanations of why we see the sleep patterns we see, and this science helps us to shape plans and solutions that we know will work. But there's an element of art to getting a baby to sleep, understanding the right combination of things that will work best, and this is where your instinct comes in.
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